Friday, January 15, 2010

Havana's Psychiatric Hospital before and after the 1959 Revolution

These black-and-white photos, above, hang in the museum of the Psychiatric Hospital in Havana. They show half-naked patients in bed and behind bars. Hospital workers say these were the sorts of conditions that patients endured before the 1959 revolution.

The deaths of at least 26 patients at the Psychiatric Hospital is tragic and sad. The blog Penúltimos Días broke the story on Jan. 13. Cuba's Ministry of Health confirmed the news on Jan. 15 and said the cause of the deaths was under investigation.

I shot these photos at the Psychiatric Hospital during a brief visit to the facility. Hospital personnel spoke with pride about improvements made in care of the mentally ill since 1959.
I was surprised that patients had so much freedom to roam around the hospital grounds. Some of the patients weren't at all shy about visitors for money and food, similar to what you might see outside some of the some of Old Havana tourist traps. But the atmosphere was relaxed and tranquil.

The Health Ministry said on Jan. 15 that the patient deaths were “linked to the prolonged low temperatures that reached 3.6 degrees C (38 F) . . . and to risk factors peculiar to mentally ill patients and to natural biological deterioration and complications from chronic diseases present in many of them, mainly cardiovascular problems and cancer," the Havana Times reported.

A Health Ministry statement said "deficiencies were found in measures" to protect patients. It added:
Those primarily responsible for these events will be put on trial.
The hospital's unforgivable lapse comes at a time when Cuban medical personnel are rushing to aid victims of the horrific earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. I have seen Cuban doctors in action before and they performed heroically. (See photos in the post, "Those unflappable Cuban doctors.")

No one can bring back the patients who died at the Psychiatric Hospital so senselessly, but at least Cuban officials are investigating the case. The more open they are about what happened, the better. They should find out who is responsible and take steps to prevent such a tragedy in the future.

As I look at these recent photos taken on the grounds of the 2,500-patient Psychiatric Hospital, I wonder if anyone in the pictures is among those who died.

BBC report on the Havana hospital deaths
Slideshow on the Haiti earthquake disaster


Nina said...

What Mental Hospital were you at when you took those pictures? I recently went to Cuba to study health and mental health in Cuba but I was not able to see any inpatient clinics? When I was there I was told that people are not really held against their will for treatment...did you find this to be true?

Tracey Eaton said...

I took the pictures at Havana's Psychiatric Hospital off Avenida Rancho Boyeros. I didn't see any patients being held against their will. I was surprised how much freedom patients had to walk around the grounds of the facility. That said, I didn't see much of the hospital - just some of the grounds and the hospital's museum. I didn't go inside patients' rooms or see any of the living quarters.
Thanks for your comment, Tracey

Marbelys Garriga said...

You think they don't hold patients against their will? then think again. I'm Cuban and sadly not proud of it. My grandfather was at that hospital he was not mentally ill my uncle got to go too. They conduct experiments with patients and you did not see most of the hospital for a reason. They show what they want to show. I'm so upset to see that you people went actually to that island to study medicine. That's just criminal. You are laughing to every single cuban face in the world. There is no medicine in cuba. There are no conditions whatsoever. I can't express my anger right now because the only thing that wants to come out is a vomit full of obscene words.

Tracey Eaton said...

I didn't write that no patients were held against their will. I just said I didn't see that. I am not defending conditions at the hospital. It is a disgrace and a crime that all those patients died while at the hospital. I don't blame you for being angry and upset. Tracey